The Shadow of the Sand (My NaNo Novel)

This is the story I'm writing for NaNoWriMo.

Here's the description I used on the website:
In Al-kirah, a country made up of deserts that flow and roll like a burning ocean, a boy named Sarem discovers something that no one is supposed to know. Accompanied only by the strange girl, Lith, he suddenly, he finds he must flee from the strange shadow-like creatures that hunt him, and fight against the kingdom that he can no longer trust.

Wish me luck! Thanks for reading :D

~Ripple :)

Chapter 1

Carrying Water

by: _Ripple_
Sarem couldn't help but smile as the stone lid was lifted off the well and light danced across the still water inside. It brought back memories of a time before drought; before every day was a blur of cracked lips and cracked minds, and before the desert betrayed them, turning from something that kept war from the border Al-Kirah, to something that encased them, trapped them, killing them off one by one. His smile promptly turned bitter as the water was shared out, and he saw the size of his family's portion. The water was poured into large clay pots, and Sarem took his without thanking the boy that passed them to him, for he was certain this was at least half of the amount he had recieved last week. His heart sank at the thought of what his family would say when they saw all that he had brought back for them. There would not be enough water to feed the goats for a week, surely. Probably they would all have to do without liquid for at least a day, even if they rationed it carefully. He sighed, but turned and followed without complaint as his group began to leave.

One year ago, he had been ashamed to be seen doing work that was generally left to the women, but soon he had realised that if women were left to make the gruelling jorney across twelve miles of desert, in time, there would be no women left. Anyway, in the past year all thought of pride and shame had been driven from his heart. All of his mental and physical strength was now bent on looking after his family and doing the work that needed to be done to survive. What else could he do? All around him, his friends were dying one by one. His own baby sister had barely been clinging to life for some days now. His mind turned to her as he walked through the windswept sands, he dreaded coming home one day to find her frail body still and unmoving, unbreathing, unblinking. He set his gaze directly ahead of him, although there was nothing for him to see but endless rolling hills of sand, forever being shifted by an unceasing wind that blew sand and stones like daggers to lacerate his flesh. The sand wittled away at his strength from below, blistering his feet and sweeping around his ankles as if trying to make him stumble, and the sun worked at him from above, sending great waves of heat like blows of a hammer to beat him down into the earth where he would collapse and be swallowed by the sand forever. He pushed such thoughts from his mind, forcing his body into a pattern that was both steady, fast and careful. He must not drop the water, no matter how much it tugged at his arms and made his shoulders ache, and he must certainly not be killed, lest no one be able to take his place in bringing water to his family. He grunted with the effort, and repositioned the containers in his aching hands.

A lifetime later, his town came into view through the sand and haze. He had been walking for almost seven hours, but it felt like a lifetime. Houses the colour of the desert rose up haphazard and asymmetrical against an indistinct horizon. The villagers had retreated inside to escape the heat so that to a traveller, the town must seem cold and deserted. The town was truly an eyesore, but it lifted Sarem's spirits tenfold, for in one of the huts nearby he knew he would find his mother, his father, and dear little brother and sister. He made his way eagerly to his own home, yearning for the sight of a human soul more tender than the boys with whom he traveled. With painful fingers he pulled back the skin flaps that covered the opening of the hut, and immediately his eyes fell on the grim bundle, limp and lifeless in his mothers arms. He stopped. He tried to speak, but his throat was too parched to make a sound. The clay pots landed on the ground with a dull thump on either side of him as he rushed to her side. She was sobbing as she cradled the little bundle in her arms, rocking it backwards and forwards and singing to it through dry lips. Sarem put his arms around his mother, and around his dead baby sister. He wept over the loss of her life, and over the cruelty of the sand, and he felt as though his heart was being wrenched from his chest as his sisters soul had been wrenched from her body. A dark thought forced its way into the back of his mind, and no matter how hard he tried to supress it it was wriggling through his grief like an ugly worm. The death of his sister meant, at least, that there would be one less mouth to feed.

Sarem held his mother until she gently pushed him away and rose from the hut floor. He scrambled to his feet and followed her as she tugged back the fur door and strode into the midst of the town where boys and men were still arriving with water. She walked through them all without turning her head to see families rejoicing or despairing over the gift that was brought to them, her expression was cold and fierce as she carried her dead baby, clutched tightly to her breast. He found it hard to keep up with her long strides, suddenly becoming aware of how much his desert journey had taken out of him. He was shaking with exhaustion when he caught up with her. He found her standing by the graves of those who had already been lost to the wrath of the desert, proud and magnificent as a lion in the face of everything that threatened them. He stood by her side, proud to be the son of a woman that could stand so tall when the circumstances around them were so crushing. Without looking at him, she spoke. "You must go home and rest, Sarem. Your father can bury your sister, hunger will not take any other child of mine." Her voice was soft, but somehow managed to carry over the sound of the wind around them. Unable to speak, he nodded, knowing she wished to be alone. Sarem left his mothers side quietly and shielded his face from the sand with his sleeve as he made his way home. He slipped inside and stood for a moment, thinking of his dear sister. Then his eyes fell upon the water that he had laboured to bring to his family. He sighed and dropped to the ground beside it, then removed the cloth covering of a pot and dipped his hands inside. He raised the water to his lips and swallowed gratefully, being careful not to let a single drop slip between his fingers and go to waste. When he was done he lay down on the rough earth and stretched into a comfortable position, covering his eyes with his forearm to shield them from the sunlight and burning sand that was blown through the many cracks in his hut. Although Sarem still longed for water and his body ached all over, he fell asleep almost as quickly as his eyes were closed.

It was evening when he woke. The harsh winds had died down a little, but they still blew as always, steady and constant over the ever changing land. Sarem stretched and tested his limbs before he tried to stand. He found that his body was marked with thousands of tiny cuts where stones had impacted against his skin. He saw many places where he had been pierced by them so deeply that he had drawn blood, and longed for water to wash the sand, dirt and blood from his wounds, but there was too little to waste even on that. As he examined his wounds he heard voices outside, and a moment later his remaining family scrambled into the hut with him. There were no smiles or words of thanks as each pair of eyes fell upon the meagre amount of water that he had brought them. Only despair was evident on the faces that surrounded him, any more subtle emotion was hidden by deep hunger and thirst. Each of them felt that their battle had been lost, that the hunger was bound to take them, as it had been taking those they knew and loved for one year now, and as it had taken Sarem's sister. They sat together on the floor and bundled themselves in furs, trying to save their heat for the bitter cold that was to come. The family of four did not speak, but grieved in silence. Sarem's eyes travelled from his father, to his mother, to his four year-old brother. He wondered which of them would be lost next, and which one of them would live on after the rest had been taken. He prayed that it would not be him.

Somehow, it was morning. The sun was rising, but had not yet heated the earth. Sarem hastened out of the hut to experience the time of the day which was most pleasant. Twelve years, he thought, was not long enough to live. He turned to face the hut where his mother and her son lay sleeping, and suddenly it occured to him that he had not yet visited his sisters grave. His stomach sank at the thought of it, but he felt obliged to do so. He hurried across the town to the secluded area where the bodies of hundreds lay resting, slowing as he neared it. It was forbidden to run in this sacred area, and although many had come to disregard this law lately, eager to dispose of rotting bodies, Sarem always followed it out of respect that was due to those departed. He bowed his head as he reached a freshly dug grave, tiny in comparison to most of the others. He knelt beside it and placed his hand on the earth there, feeling the cool sand run between his fingers. His sister was under there, he knew, but her soul was above him, and all around him. She had become a part of eternity. A tear rolled down his cheek, but the sadness he felt now was not of loss. It was the sadness of ending. The sadness of knowing that death was near and accepting it to be final. He did not fear death, but, he thought, he would have liked to have more time to enjoy life. He brushed the tear from his face, and as he did so he began to notice a sound different from those of the desert. He frowned, trying to place the sound. It was more consistent than the noises he was used to, like the ever changing howling of the wind. It brought to mind the town to which he travelled to bring his family their water. And suddenly, he knew. He turned his face to the South, alert and ready. His eyes gazed over the empty sands, seeking out the source of the drum-like rythm. Then he found what he was looking for. Through the haze and confusion of the desert, a horse had appeared, and mounted on its back was a man clad in black.

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